When we moved our lives to Panamá six months ago we landed on a Panamanian Style house for rent in Capira for only $300 a month. Although the cost of living here is much cheaper than the U.S. how much one spends on living expenses depends on how many American luxuries they can't seem to live without. So just what exactly does Panamanian style mean in terms of housing?
A Panamanian style house typically comes without a hot water heater since the locals use cold water for everything. That means the house may not be plumbed for hot water even if you decide to put in a hot water heater. In fact the bathroom sinks may only have a faucet with a single handle since only one level of water is necessary. Since the weather in Panamá is hot year round, the locals enjoy taking cold showers but will boil water to wash dishes.
Since electricity is expensive here most locals can't afford the luxury of air conditioning, although some do have them in the bedrooms. Since windows are left open at all times to allow adequate air flow, most homes have bars and screens but no glass in the windows. They will put glass in the bedroom windows if they choose to put in an air conditioner in that room. For poorer Panamanians windows consist of only cement blocks with decorative holes in them. With no screens they avoid turning on lights at night to keep bugs out. During the daytime most locals open their front doors to allow maximum air flow.
Panamanian style homes tend to have a small bedroom with a seperate bath and entrance off the kitchen for the maid. This allows the maid to enter and exit the house without disturbing the family, and since she does all of the cooking she's nearby the kitchen. Kitchens are usually tiny since the maid is the only one that has access leaving the lady of the house free to take care of the family. Domestic help is cheap here so middle class families feel the need to hire help to do most everything.
Homes here are constructed totally from cement block covered with more cement. Insides usually have tiled floors and counter tops, which cover cement constructed bases and wood fronted cabinets. Cement is plentiful and cheap here and used for everything from furniture to fencing.
Since the locals keep their washers outside, there is typically no hook up inside the house for this. Clothes dryers are rare among the locals since they like to hang clothes outside, even in the rainy season when clothes take weeks to dry.
And when a house is rented or sold "unfurnished" it means that it comes with no appliances including stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer.
Since Panamanians don't use air conditioning or heat they see no need to seal up homes with insulation, or doors and windows that seal properly. When the wind blows dirt blows in under and over the doors as well as through the screens in the windows.